Men on caffeine

19 Apr

Now that I’ve reduced my caffeine intake, I actively seek out decaffeinated coffee and I’m finding it rather difficult, at least in Toronto, to get a decaf after 11 am. This makes me wonder why the powers that be are making decaf hard to come by, but then I decided that it’s actually about creating addiction which affects the bottom line, apparently more important than the health of society at large. But that’s another story.

Caffeine gets mixed medical reviews: I’ve read that it lowers the risk of diabetes and Parkinson’s disease, drops the risk of colon cancer by 20%, and two cups a day cuts the risk of developing gallstones in half. Caffeine is a stimulant that speeds digestion and temporarily increases our mental processes.

However, caffeine also increases the likelihood of panic attacks, can cause excessive sweating in some people, and can keep us awake when we need to sleep. (Read more here.) Caffeine is dehydrating due to its diuretic properties making us urinate more often, and this may accelerate the skin’s aging process. wrinkling us prematurely.

But everyone will react to caffeine differently. “Some people experience greater mental clarity, alertness and productivity after a cup of coffee. Other people become jittery, anxious, or depressed when they drink coffee,” according to healthguidance.org.

Knowing this, and knowing how different the male and female brains are, I wondered if the chemistry of caffeine affects men and women differently. Turns out it does.

Men and caffeine
Caffeine affects the workings of testosterone in men, in some cases, increasing it. But hold on, fellas – drinking excess cups of coffee will not turn you into the Incredible Hulk or increase the quality and volume of your semen, but studies show that taking caffeine before a workout increases testosterone. To say the least, this is a complicated issue and more research is needed to land on anything conclusive.
What studies are showing however, is the effect of caffeine on men’s cognitive abilities, and the findings are not good. At the University of Bristol, a 2010 study measured the role of caffeine in stressful situations affecting performance in men and women. Pairs of each gender were given caffeine and a time limit to complete puzzles.
The results, published in Journal of Applied Social Psychology, showed that pairs of women drinking caffeinated coffee completed puzzles “100 seconds faster than those who took decaf coffee, while men on caffeine completed the puzzles 20 seconds slower than those on the decaffeinated. Men drinking caffeinated coffee were “greatly impaired” in the memory tasks.” (Read more here.)

The researchers pointed out that offering bottomless cups of coffee at male-dominated meetings may not be a good idea, because in some men, caffeine can increase aggression, and “men might even unintentionally sabotage the partnerships forged to solve stressful issues.”

Bob Sutton, professor of management science at Standford, boils down the studies findings to this: “If you are running a meeting and it is attended by all women, give them caffeinated drinks, but if it is all men, or perhaps a blend of men and women, given them the decaf if you want cooperation and better performance.”

Famous caffeine addicts
In research for this post, I noted something very interesting that suggested caffeine as a gateway drug: “Any individual who consumes large amounts of caffeine is at greater risk of becoming a smoker and of drinking alcoholic beverages to excess.”
Excessive use of nicotine and caffeine sounds familiar, especially if you’re Frank Zappa.

Billy James, in his book, Necessity Is…:The Early Years of Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, explains that during the 1960s, Frank Zappa’s band was often associated with the psychedelic scene because of the type of weird music they played.

If the Mothers were taking drugs, James says, Zappa “probably wasn’t aware of it and most certainly wasn’t joining them – preferring caffeine and nicotine to anything stronger. Clearly, with a mind as intelligent and creative as his was, he was in no need of hallucinogenic assistance. Ever the consummate professional Zappa had no time for the sloppiness that indulgence in drink and drugs brought out in musicians.”

Was Zappa testy with his band because of the effects of caffeine? Modern scientific research certainly suggests this – caffeine is a mild stimulant, known to slow cerebral blood flow by 27% according to one study I read, also causing anxiety, increased heart rate, and increased aggression. Like a low dose of speed, I suppose.

Another famous coffee addict, Honore de Balzac, an influential 19th century playwright and writer, drank impossible amounts of coffee and would stay up for days drinking and writing.

In his essay, The Pleasures and Pains of Coffee, Balzac writes, “The state coffee puts one in when it is drunk on an empty stomach under these magisterial conditions produces a kind of animation that looks like anger: one’s voice rises, one’s gestures suggest unhealthy impatience: one wants everything to proceed with the speed of ideas; one becomes brusque, ill-tempered about nothing.”

Caffeine in large amounts on an empty stomach wreaks havoc on the system, which I can attest to – I’ve recently broken the habit of drinking two pots of  black tea for breakfast – this affected the lining of my stomach, caused a little pain, hiccups, burping, and nausea – though it may have made Balzac proud, I don’t recommend it.

…coffee falls into your stomach, a sack whose velvety interior is lined with tapestries of suckers and papillae. The coffee finds nothing else in the sack, and so it attacks these delicate and voluptuous linings; it acts like a food and demands digestive juices; it wrings and twists the stomach for these juices, appealing as a pythoness appeals to her god; it brutalizes these beautiful stomach linings as a wagon master abuses ponies; the plexus becomes inflamed; sparks shoot all the way up to the brain.

-Honore de Balzac

When it comes to caffeine, gents, in the form of coffee, tea, cola, or chocolate, moderation is the best advice. Try to be aware of the way caffeine affects you and decide for yourself if having more is going to be beneficial to your brain, your bowels, and your nerves. Also think about your nightly rest – caffeine after 2 pm is said to affect your sleep because it takes some time to dissolve in the body and blocks andensine, the chemical that causes drowsiness by slowing down nerve cell activity.

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2 Responses to “Men on caffeine”

  1. Gingerheaddad April 19, 2012 at 9:02 pm #

    A terrific post and good research!

    I recall a few years ago ordering a decaf in a certain Washington-headquartered coffee chain. It was early evening and, I thought, a perfect time to get a decaf. I was informed that they stop brewing decaf mid-afternoon across the whole chain. I was cheerfully told that I could order a decaf americano, so that was a good substitution. But no decaf brewing in the evening?

  2. Leah Morrigan April 19, 2012 at 9:50 pm #

    Ginger, I feel your pain! We should lobby this unnamed coffee chain and asked for brewed decaf all day and all night.

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